picasso and braque

flickr

Montenegro, Roberto (1887-1968) - 1942 The First Lady (Private Collection) by RasMarley
Via Flickr:
Roberto Montenegro. The First Lady, 1942. Oil on cardboard. 10-­‐3/4 x 14-1/8 in. Collection of Andrés Blaisten. 

Most striking about the traditional societies of the Congo was their remarkable artwork: baskets, mats, pottery, copper and ironwork, and, above all, woodcarving. It would be two decades before Europeans really noticed this art. Its discovery then had a strong influence on Braque, Matisse, and Picasso—who subsequently kept African art objects in his studio until his death. Cubism was new only for Europeans, for it was partly inspired by specific pieces of African art, some of them from the Pende and Songye peoples, who live in the basin of the Kasai River, one of the Congo’s major tributaries. It is easy to see the distinctive brilliance that so entranced Picasso and his colleagues at their first encounter with this art at an exhibit in Paris in 1907.

In these central African sculptures some body parts are exaggerated, some shrunken; eyes project, cheeks sink, mouths disappear, torsos become elongated; eye sockets expand to cover almost the entire face; the human face and figure are broken apart and formed again in new ways and proportions that had previously lain beyond the sight of traditional European realism.

The art sprang from cultures that had, among other things, a looser sense than Islam or Christianity of the boundaries between our world and the next, as well as of those between the world of humans and the world of beasts. Among the Bolia people of the Congo, for example, a king was chosen by a council of elders; by ancestors, who appeared to him in a dream; and finally by wild animals, who signaled their assent by roaring during a night when the royal candidate was left at a particular spot in the rain forest. Perhaps it was the fluidity of these boundaries that granted central Africa’s artists a freedom those in Europe had not yet discovered.
—  Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost

“Except in photojournalism, there will be no such thing as a ‘straight photograph’; everything will be an amalgam, an interpretation, an enhancement or a variation – either by the photographer as auteur or by the camera itself.”

As we tumble forwards into these unknown territories there’s a curious throwback to a moment in art history when 100 years ago the Cubists revolutionized ways of seeing using a very similar (albeit analog) approach to what they saw. Picasso, Braque and others deconstructed the world and reassembled it not in terms of what they saw, but rather in terms of what they knew using multiple perspectives to depict a deeper understanding.

While the photographic world wrestles with even such basic tools as Photoshop there is no doubt that we’re moving into a space more aligned with Cubism than Modernism. It will not be long before our audiences demand more sophisticated imagery that is dynamic and responsive to change, connected to reality by more than a static two-dimensional rectangle of crude visual data isolated in space and time. We’ll look back at the black-and-white photograph that was the voice of truth for nearly a century, as a simplistic and incomplete source of information about what was happening in the world.